Chapter 26: Means to an End

The forest was strangely quiet, the usual murmur of nightly noises was subdued and distant. Dense branches arched protectively over the wood's inhabitants. Trees broke and scattered the waning moonlight, casting fleeting shadows over the soft ground.

Buried within this soft-sighing wood stands a very ancient tree. Its wide base dwarfs the flora around it, a single smooth scar mars the rough bark. Its shadow stretches furthest, blankets the floor where the other trees have maintained a reverent distance.

The only thing planted there besides the soft grasses and mosses was a simple marker, the lichen already seeping upward in swaths of green and orange. In time, even it would be swallowed by this place. Flowers had been laid there in recent days, but now they were withered and brown.

Yet on this night, the dark shadows of the canopy were split by a soft white light, coming not from the heavens, but from the ground. There, in this strangely timeless place, a tall figure stood enveloped in white. He stood with the same immortal dignity as the tree beside him, even the wind seemed hesitant to touch his long silver-white hair and pristine clothing. Golden eyes were cast thoughtfully downward. They were softly tranquil in spite of the man's intimidating presence.

At his hip were two swords. One was old and battered with the relics of many battles. The other was delicately shaped and never lost its pure and pristine luster. In its hilt was set a single stone, which seemed to glow warmly with its own pinkish-white light. It was difficult to discern whether the soft light came from the man himself, or the jewel in his sword.

So softly that one could not be sure he was speaking, his voice fell like a slow rain in the forest, landing silently and being absorbed into obscurity.

"I think that I understand now," he said softly. "Both you, and chichi-ue."

Undeterred by the heavy silence, he continued his one-sided dialog.

"I understand. And you were right, she was worth dying for."

He smiled softly, the strange quirk of his lips might have been from arrogance or humor. It was impossible to tell. "I thought it only proper, to thank you for protecting her until she could come to me--and for your sacrifice. I was incorrect to think you weak."

"Had she not come to me... I would not have been made whole, would not have been able to achieve a victory. I am only sorry that I could not shed my constraints sooner, or I might have been able to save you."

His smirk widened just a little more. "But I hope you understand, I have no intention of dying for her. I much prefer having her in life. And it is probably for the best that you have gone to a noble end, for I certainly would not allow any other man to have her now. Even you, dear brother."

"Still, I can't help but think that perhaps... we have all been led purposely down this path--as if all that has happened were manipulated to bring all of us here, to this end. From the moment she was brought here, the first time she released you and began all of this."

"But of course the thought that there is some force that could make a tool of this Sesshoumaru is completely ridiculous. The sons of the greatest lineage of demons, reduced to puppets of fate? No, I will not believe that all of this was intended."

The silence seeped between the trees, filling the space before he chased it away again.

"Still... if it were true... this is not so unpleasant a servitude."

With a slow graceful motion, he unsheathed his sword, white light shimmering down its unblemished length.

"A parting gift, little brother," he whispered.

The sword cut a glowing blue arch across the darkness, sprinkled with pinkish-white sparks.

The white figure turned away even as he returned his blade, feeling the after-surge of his stroke. If he had bothered to look behind him, he would have seen the vitality seep back into the cut bouquets laying there, and the first shoots of new flowers pushing their way upward through the soft soil. By morning the sacred ground would be covered in swaths of red and white blossoms.

The figure in white had already disappeared. After all, he had a mate to return to. She was, perhaps, a fleeting gift, and he did not wish to waste a moment.

Well everyone, that's it. I know it was probably not exactly what you were expecting/hoping for, but there it is. And I wrote the whole story without using that damn 'w' word. Go me. Thank you all for reading and for all the great reviews you've given me over the course of this story.

I am well aware that there are a lot of loose ends remaining. Many of you asked about an epilogue, and I am certain that I won't write one of those. I may, however, eventually right a sequel. I've had half of a plot for one circling in my head for some months now. It would (loosely) work off of events in Ch. 21, which was actually the only reason I included that chapter. The problem with the sequel, however, is that the idea I have in mind is kind of complex and, well, would require some thought and work on my part. And I'm a lazy, lazy person. So basically it's going to depend on how many people would actually be interested in reading it, because I'm not going to go to the trouble unless there's a massive outcry for me to write more. In any case, I'm not starting another story until I finish either Duplicity or Moonstruck. As always, progress notes will be on my bio page.

Thanks to everybody who helped me write and edit this thing. Especially Raichu, my wonderful beta, whom I can always count on for a patronizing shake of the head and condescending pat on the back. I've had several other people who have given me feedback on various parts of the story, and of course all the people who've given me advice and support in the reviews. Rest assured that while I may be too lazy to look up who you were, I very much appreciated your help and comments. (And the less time I spend writing notes and responses, the more time for writing actual stories!)

Lastly, I don't usually do this, but I hate to see a good story going unread. Everyone should go check out "Reflected Past" by InuOtaku2003 (storyid=1473908). It's a very well written and original story. Pairings involve Sesshoumaru with Midoriko and Rin (eventually, as far as I understand), for those of you who have to know.



This chapter last updated: Tuesday, September 30, 2003